So a Loved One Has Just Come Out . . .

I was asked to write an article for the LikeMe Lighthouse Newsletter.  Since I’m so long-winded, I’m sure they will have to edit it down, so I thought I’d share this here as well.

My experiences with family members who are grappling with how they feel about a loved one coming out has been just as varied as the individual people themselves. I’ve witnessed every possible emotion – embarrassment, anger, hurt, fearfulness (especially if their religious beliefs inform their view of the LGBTQ community) and everything in between.  Many are just shocked or in denial. And, yes, there are many families who simply say, “we have always loved you and that isn’t going to change now.”

For the LGBTQ person, my advice is always to remember that your family has a process to go through, just as you have – and you’ve likely already been in yours for a while before you decided to come out to them. Often, they already suspected, but in many cases, it’s like someone just pulled the rug out from under them.  If you want them to honor your growth, then you must also respect theirs – and the time and effort it takes.

For friends and family members, here are a few things to think about when someone you care about has just come out to you:

Take a breath!  Take time to think before you react.  Once you’ve thought about it, it may not be as big of a deal as you originally thought. Getting some distance from the initial shock of new information is always helpful in sorting things out.

Educate yourself: If the news is very new and unexpected, don’t get advice from a lot of people. They may have no real understanding of the process, and their feedback may be based on unfounded biases. You’ll only get more confused. However, if you can find a professional therapist (try http://www.lgbtguild.com/ for a local LGBTQ affirming therapist) and/or a friend or co-worker who you know as an open-minded and compassionate individual or who has had a similar experience this would be helpful.  Remember though, that their opinions are just that – their opinions, based on their own experiences.  Be sure that when you do communicate with your loved one that your response is coming from YOU.

In addition to talking to someone, there are a number of books, videos, movies, websites, etc. that have information on this topic.  The LikeMe Lighthouse has a library full of these.  Again, just be sure you have a diverse collection from which to choose.  Be as open-minded as you can be as you approach this.
The most wonderful source of both support and information is PFLAG.  Find a local group close to you and call the number listed, or better yet, attend a meeting!  You won’t be sorry!

Acknowledge your emotions:  You’re likely to feel flooded by a variety of emotions. Before talking to your LGBTQ loved one, write out everything you’re feeling.  This is not
for anyone else to read or hear.  The purpose is just to get out what’s inside you.  It won’t necessarily resolve anything initially, but getting it outside your head will be a huge start to doing away with the intellectual violence that all of us have going on inside our heads.

Talk with your loved one:  Face the issue honestly.  What we resist persists. If you ignore confronting the situation, the person will still be gay, bisexual, transgender, etc. (and don’t try to convince him he’s not – that part is not your business). But your anxiety and the discomfort between you will get stronger. It might not be fun to have an open, honest dialogue, but that will lead to more understanding and a bond you may never have had before.  Reassure him that you love him and want to support him, but be honest about your emotions.  It’s OK to be where you are now. Being angry, upset or confused doesn’t negate the love you have for someone.

Remember she is the same person she always was:   This is no different than if you found out she had a mole on her back that you didn’t know was there.  It’s probably always been there, and just because you know it’s there now, it certainly doesn’t change who she is, or whether you love her.

Finally, If someone has just come out to you, take it as the huge compliment it is.  It means that person respects and/or loves you and wants you to be a part of his/her journey.  As human beings, this is one of the primary purposes we’re here – to connect with and love each other.